IS IT A TAX: Kathleen Parker watch!

MONDAY, JULY 2, 2012

Part 1—Your "journalists" aren't up to this task: Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post.

(We know, we know. They all are!)

On Sunday, Parker opined on the Supreme Court’s recent health care decision. She focused on the role played by Chief Justice Roberts.

Parker seems like a pleasant person. But we were perplexed from the start:
PARKER (7/1/12): The Supreme Court ruling on health-care reform was like Palm Sunday in reverse: First they crucified Chief Justice John Roberts, then, upon his ruling, they hauled out the palm fronds.

“They” would be the various pundits, academics and others who let Roberts know in advance that if his court overturned “Obamacare,” he would be revealed and remembered as a partisan hack.

But then: Hosanna, Eureka and Praise Jesus, Allah and Abraham! Roberts, a conservative, devout Catholic who probably doesn’t personally like any part of this law, sided with the liberal wing of the court and upheld the legislation. Cue Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus.
Roberts did vote to uphold the legislation. (Actually, he voted to uphold the bulk of the legislation; the unforced errors come thick and fast in this column.) But we were puzzled:

Why would a devout Catholic personally dislike all parts of the law? One part of the law would be this: Before Roberts and six other justices struck down part of its Medicaid provision, it was projected that the law would provide or help provide insurance to thirty million uninsured people.

Why wouldn’t a devout Catholic “personally like” that part of this law? We have no earthly idea.

We thought Parker’s column was poorly reasoned and hard to follow throughout. Only after a bit of a struggle were we able to decipher paragraphs 5 and 6. (In paragraph 5, she is plainly criticizing liberals. But in paragraph 6, it’s Tea Party types against whom she snarks, we finally discerned.)

Meanwhile, did Justice Roberts really say that “Obamacare constitutes a tax?” (See Parker’s paragraph 8.) Surely, Parker meant to say that Roberts said that it includes a tax (the so-called “penalty”). And yes, that distinction makes a difference, as was clear all over the landscape on the Sunday shows.

Parker is a Pulitzer winner. But alas! Within our Potemkin upper-end “press corps,” such people just aren’t very good at making basic distinctions. Our major columnists reason quite poorly. Amazingly often, they’re given to outright misstatement of fact.

Amazingly often, our Pulitzer winners don’t seem to know what the Grant Hill they’re talking about. And that’s pretty much where matters stood as Parker offered this thunder in paragraphs 11 and 12:
PARKER: Here’s what else the court said. When a tax is a tax, you have to call it a tax. No more pretense or doublespeak to fool or mislead people. This is a victory for all Americans, no matter what one’s political leaning, because it is a victory for plain speaking. If we could summarily order all politicians to say exactly what they mean, we would all be better off.

We also probably wouldn’t have Obamacare. If Americans had heard from the beginning that health-care reform meant a new tax, the legislation probably wouldn’t have gone far. This is especially so, given that the tax primarily will be on the backs of middle-class Americans who can least afford it. Who else, after all, is going to be hardest-pressed to find extra funds to purchase insurance?
For now, put aside Parker’s claim about calling a tax a tax. We thought that passage was quite shaky too (more tomorrow).

But the highlighted statement, taken on face, seems to be flat-out wrong.

Are you kidding? “If Americans had heard from the beginning that health-care reform meant a new tax, the legislation probably wouldn’t have gone far?” In fact, the health law includes quite a few new taxes, a fact which was widely discussed over the past several years. On Friday, PolitiFact listed seven of these new taxes, even as it refuted of one of the ridiculous claims which have emerged from last week’s ruling.

In typical fashion, Rush Limbaugh had claimed that the health care law is "the largest tax increase in the history of the world." PolitiFact murdered that evergreen bit of stupidity, though many voters will hear that claim in future weeks as the “press corps” sits and self-diddles.

But even as it shot Rush down with a pants-on-fire ruling, PolitiFact listed seven new taxes which are part of the law. If we take her column on face, Parker didn’t seem to know that there are any such taxes in the law. She didn’t seem to know that many voters have heard complaints about them.

Did Parker really mean what she said? By simply construction, her column implies that no one heard there were any new taxes in the law until Roberts delivered his ruling.

It’s possible to rethink what she wrote, insisting that what she wrote can’t possibly be what she meant. It’s possible to imagine that an editor came along and fudged up her copy.

Maybe Parker didn’t mean it. But by simple construction, that is what her column said—and our Pulitzer winners routinely misstate basic facts about high-profile topics. (Click here for Gene Robinson, just last week, in the same famous newspaper.) In truth, these people don't work very hard—and/or they aren't very honest.

Truly, we live in fictitious times—fictitious times which are driven along by a fictitious “press corps.”

For better or worse, there are lots of new taxes in the health law. Our analysts simply shook their heads at Parker’s apparent cluelessness. But even as they shook their heads, they understood a much larger point—a press corps which can’t even state basic facts will be massively over its head in the semantic disputes which will follow last Thursday’s ruling.

Does Obamacare “constitute” a tax? What did Robert actually say about this matter? Already, this has become a fascinating discussion—and within this sprawling “semantic” discussion, much propaganda will flow.

Important facts will be misstated or miscast. The public in going hear all sorts of bogus assertions. And as this important discussion unfolds, you can be thoroughly sure of one fact:

The high-ranking actors who pose as our “journalists” will be massively over their heads in this sprawling discussion. They won’t know how to discuss these claims.

Nor will they actually care.

Tomorrow: What Roberts said


  1. She probably confused Catholics with the Catholic Church (who, in the U.S, are GOP activists).

    1. Under current regs, the law forces Catholic organizations to provide birth control services to their employees or shut down. I think many Catholics oppose this provision even if they personally use birth control services.

    2. I don't agree, David in Cal. Most Catholics I speak with realize a Catholic BUSINESS is a BUSINESS and not a religious organization, and therefore should play by the same rules that all businesses do.
      The only Catholics I hear opposing the rules are in the Catholic hierarchy, who are GOP activists.

    3. Every liberal and conservative on the supreme court disagrees with you, Anon 11:02. See Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran school vs EEOC

    4. Hey David. Are "birth control services" covered in Canada? How about Europe? What is the position of the Catholic bishops there? Or do they belong to a different Catholic church?

  2. Seems to me a reasonable person would conclude that if the result of not buying insurance is a tax then the Anti-Injunction Act would hold sway. But no. Witness this bit of legerdemain:
    "(a) The Affordable Care Act describes the “[s]hared responsibility payment” as a “penalty,” not a “tax.” That label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act. It does not, however, control whether an exaction is within Congress’s power to tax. In answering that constitutional question, this Court follows a functional approach,
    “[d]isregarding the designation of the exaction, and viewing its substance and application.” United States v. Constantine, 296 U. S. 287, 294. Pp. 33–35."

    It's not a tax, but it is a tax, but it's not a tax. Hasn't he read Bill S.

  3. US Conference of Catholic Bishops on ruling

    For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not participate in these cases and took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court, USCCB's position on health care reform generally and on ACA particularly is a matter of public record.The bishops ultimately opposed final passage of ACA for several reasons.

    First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy.The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of "high risk" insurance pools that would have covered abortion.

    Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context.We have provided extensive analyses of ACA's defects with respect to both abortion and conscience.The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACA's new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHS's "preventive services" mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.

    Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly.ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money.This undermines the Act's stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need.

    Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today.The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above.We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.

  4. As the hairsplitting goes on, I am going to continue to celebrate one of the biggest progressive victories since Medicare. Anyone want to join me? Or do you want keep arguing over parking tickets?

    Or perhaps you'd like to continue lamenting all the *lost* progressive opportunities brought about by MoDo and Matthews getting Bush "elected"? (Because, you know, we libs looooove our lost causes. Can't get enough of 'em.)

    Pass some more Champagne this way.

  5. This is O.K. but it assumes Parker is some sort of credible person in the first place. TDH tends to overrate her.

    1. TDH tends to concern itself with what it thinks is the low-hanging fruit. He doesn't criticize Parker (and a few selected others) because there is anything truly important at state. He criticizes Parker (et al) because it's easy to do so.

    2. should be "at stake"

  6. Parker is simply reciting the fall-back conservative storyline on the decision that Sean Hannity was pushing from the day it came out - "Obama lied to us about taxes!"

  7. Actually the issue is one of semantics, as Bob notes.

    When the ACA was being debated in Congress, the term penalty was settled on so Republicans couldn't accuse Democrats of raising taxes. (They did anyway.)

    The penalty will be collected by the IRS, which was good enough for John Roberts to call it a tax.

    I presume the new tax schedules will have a line, "Health Insurance Premiums paid."

    Persons failing to report or falsely reporting would be subject to sanctions, but so far none so draconian as those imposed for acts of deliberate tax fraud.

    If the person does not put in an amount paid for insurance, the "tax" will be deducted from his refund. That's the easy part.

    As for everyone else, we'll have to wait for the laws to be written before we can understand them. Or dispute them.

    I believe their is some obscure law that says taxes can't be challenged until they are imposed.

  8. The argument that "only 1%" of the population will possibly be paying the mandate penalty as if they will be the only ones paying a new "tax" imposed by the PP&ACA disingenuously ignores fact that the act is financed in part by 21 new or higher taxes. Just because you have health insurance doesn't mean your pocketbook won't be affected.

    And the oft repeated claim that the act will "reduce the deficit" is certainly put to rest with the latest CBO report that shows that it will add over a trillion dollars to the deficit over a ten year period.